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Fourth Sunday of Advent

Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
—Luke 4:18-22

The Real Santa

In the late fall of 1965 I was riddled with doubt; friends at school had begun to tell me that there was no Santa Claus.

When my parents took my sister and I to see Santa in the courtyard of the old Sears store at the New Hartford Shopping Center I spotted a wire protruding from Santa's beard and refused to speak with him: "Hmmm; perhaps my friends were right!"

My parents and sister worked hard to change my mind but as Christmas approached I was still uncertain and had still not seen Santa.

Two days before Christmas a snowy morning greeted us. Our Catholic elementary school had closed for the day while the Utica Public schools remained open.  My dad asked if I'd like to spend the day with him at work and I gladly agreed.

In those days my dad's office was located in downtown Utica and a day at the office meant breakfast at the Triangle Coffee Shop where, on that morning, I met the mayor and Johnny Carson...this "Johnny" worked for a local funeral home but I was seven and as far as I knew I'd met a real live celebrity.

I spent the morning at my dad's office; sharpening pencils, chatting with the ladies who worked there, eating their Christmas cookies and watching the people below walking along the snowy streets.

At lunchtime my dad suggested we walk down to the Boston Store for a sandwich at their lunch counter.

In those days the Boston Store was our Macy's and I couldn't wait to go.  We bundled up and headed out onto a bustling Genesee Street; chatting with all we met along the way.

As we arrived at the store we paused inside the front door to stomp the snow from our boots and my dad asked if I would like to head downstairs to "Santa's Workshop" before having lunch: "There's no other children here; you'll have Santa all to yourself. Why don't you give him one more chance?"

Lunch could wait a few minutes.

We found the "workshop" empty. Santa's chair sat in front of a large curtain and next to a sign saying that he was out feeding the reindeer. As we turned to leave a figure appeared from behind the curtain; it was Santa.

Santa was rather thin.  His cheeks and hands were windburned and rough and his beard was real and a bit scruffy.  We sized each other up for a moment and he asked me if I'd like to tell him what I wanted for Christmas. I looked around the deserted "workshop;" I looked at my dad and he nodded to go ahead, so I did.

Santa asked me my name and then a question, but not the one I expected:  "Chip; do you know what Christmas is all about?"

"Presents?" I replied.

"Well, yes, presents are a part of Christmas but what Christmas is really about is giving." he said.  "It's about being a good person, being kind and helping your parents and sister and others less fortunate than you."

I spent a few more minutes with Santa and then he told me he had to get busy because he had a lot to do before Christmas Eve. We turned to leave and I said to my dad:  "He was the REAL Santa wasn't he dad?" "Yes son; he was the real Santa."

Forty-six years have passed; I can't recall a thing I asked Santa for that day.  But his words of advice have stuck with me and remind me each day that the good acts of one person can inspire others and bring peace and joy to all of us...and bring hope to our sisters and brothers out there whose faith has waned...those yearning to believe.

—Chip Hemmel,
Community Partner for the COOP
Married to Betsy Hemmel in the Business Office